Cullman is one of the best town’s in the South!! As Chamber Chair I am grateful for the more than 950 members that support our Chamber and community and work to make Cullman an outstanding place to live, work, play and worship. Membership retention continues to be an important goal to our success.
The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce fiscal year begins officially on March 1 when new Board members assume their roles and new goals are established for the coming year.
Our annual meeting has been scheduled for February 27 this year.
Our current Chamber goals have included advocating for additional housing development as outlined in the county wide housing assessment plan of 2019. We anticipate this goal will continue as a priority for next year as we have a housing shortage in every sector and in all areas of our city and county.
While new single-family housing is underway in some areas, we are still experiencing deficiencies in many others. Rental housing and home ownership are both needed to meet the needs of citizens. Many people wishing to move here to work or simply needing more room to expand are unable to find suitable or affordable housing.
Talent attraction and retention has been a focus of the Chamber along with many other entities. As our unemployment rate continues to drop, we will need to maintain strong partnerships to help find creative ways to deal with this growing issue that is affecting our state and nation. The Chamber is aware of this problem and we must continue our efforts to retain those workers we have and to attract young talent to our area. The Chamber’s ongoing Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) Program, a national program that helps to transform high school age students into confident entrepreneurs is unique in that it encourages students to generate business ideas, conduct market research and write business plans, pitching these to a panel of investors, much like the popular show Shark Tank. Hopefully students will launch their very own companies here in Cullman. The YEA! Program has 15 students registered for this year and along with our Youth Leadership Cullman County program and Emerging Professionals Impacting Cullman (EPIC), we are confident these programs will be continued and will be instrumental in talent attraction and retainment for the Cullman area.
Educators and industries alike have encouraged all of the partners to begin talent development at a younger age. The Chamber, Wallace State College, City and County Schools and local economic development entities have scheduled the new World of Opportunities Program (WOW)to be held on the campus of Wallace State College in October 2020. This event will replace the former career fair and include both 8th and 9th grades for all city and counties schools. Medical, industries and service providers will present their programs and skills needed and reach out to interested students during the WOW event. This hands-on event will allow students an opportunity to spend time learning and asking questions of local companies to find compatible matches that will help students become aware of what Cullman has to offer locally before graduation, and to begin a plan for their future.
The Chamber has increased its tourism focus over the past year and we recently filed for a grant to assist us in developing a new brochure for religious tourism in Cullman. We have many wonderful churches, shrines and the historic and well-loved Ava Maria Grotto. Cullman is already a great location for religious tourism and we need to capitalize on this for the future.
Governor Kay Ivy reported that last year was a record-breaking year for Alabama. Tourism attracted 27.7 million visitors in 2018 to Alabama -a million more than ever before.
Cullman has many unique attractions to offer to various interests. Some are cultural, historic, or religious in nature, while others are recreational. Stoney Lonesome, fishing tournaments, festivals and Smith Lake are just a few reasons why we need to build on our past and continue to create new attractions for the future. Working with other community partners committed to tourism, our Chamber Tourism Board can develop a solid marketing plan for the future that consistently promotes what Cullman has to offer.
I look forward to March 2020 as we move forward together with new ideas and goals for the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce.
Kay Shabel is Chair of the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee.